An anti-abortion club at Oak Harbor High School drew attention after drawing hearts on the sidewalks, but not the kind the group was hoping for.
The effort to promote Wildcats for Life led to more than 2,000 people signing an online petition to shut down the group.
The change.org petition has garnered 2,031 signatures as of Monday afternoon. It started two weeks ago.
“This club is about teenagers who are pro-life and want to defund Planned Parenthood and spread awareness on pregnancy,” the online petition said.
“Sounds good, until you realize that they are creating harm to our community and taking away women’s rights. By signing this petition, you are agreeing to make this club shut down because it is hurtful and disrespectful.”
An account called “OHHS students” created the petition, and there is no way to contact the petitioner through the online forum.
The student club is not new. It has been in existence since the fall of 2017.
Club President Annie Salinger, a senior, explained that the club — which has about 10 members — was granted approval from the school to draw hearts with chalk on the sidewalks on Feb. 10.
Salinger said the club drew about 3,000 hearts to promote their club and to welcome students back to school.
A club member made a video to promote the club on social media and to explain why there were a bunch of hearts on the sidewalk when students returned to hybrid in-person classes.
“That kind of backfired and we got a whole bunch of absolute hate, just messages that were not nice,” Salinger said.
Most of the messages came from students, Salinger said. However, the club has since gained some members.
The controversy has simmered down, and Salinger said that the girl who started the petition reached out to her to apologize because she “didn’t expect it to blow up this much.”
Social studies teacher James Crouch is the club’s advisor. He said his role as an advisor is to make sure the club adheres to school rules.
“As a social studies teacher, I support our students’ rights to free speech and to engage in a civil and respectful manner in issues they’re passionate about,” Crouch said.
The club has been trying to recruit members since its inception several years ago, he added.
Conor Laffey, school district communications officer, said the chalk hearts included the group’s name but did not have any other messaging inscribed.
If another club had wanted to do a similar project, they would have been approved as well, he said.
The students have federally protected First Amendment rights, he said, and school board policy protects speech and activities as long as they do not “substantially disrupt school operation.”
High school students are further protected by a federal law called the Equal Access Act which prohibits schools from allowing some student clubs to conduct meetings or fundraise, while denying other clubs based on the “religious, political, philosophical or other content” of the club’s speech.
The law applies to any federally funded secondary school.
“We have a tremendous relationship with many of our school club leaders and will continue to work with them if/when a problem arises,” Laffey said.